Monday, January 18, 2010

Is DOGME for adVancEducation?

According to its YahooGroup members listing (, I joined Dogme on March 8, 2002 .  I started following the group after James Farmer put Webheads on to it: (in the 121st msg posted to the group), but as my interests gravitated toward edtech, I eventually lost interest and lost track.  Since then there have been about 20 messages mentioning dogme in the almost 25,000 posted to the Webheads list, but only recently have there been overt recommendations for Webheads to pay closer attention to what was going on there; e.g., Graham Stanley early in 2009:

The founder of the concept for teaching (drawing on the film genre) is Scott Thornbury, and its minimalist essence is captured in the front page of this website: (with links to a longer article on "teaching unplugged").  There's a Wikipedia entry on Dogme here:, where it states succinctly that "Dogme is a communicative approach to language teaching and encourages teaching without published textbooks and instead focusing on conversational communication among the learners and the teacher."

Now, what got me started on this posting was Karen Sylvester's tweet, here:

So, I bit. I popped over to and left a comment; to wit:

"Ok, here's Dogme from the perspective of teaching some other language as a foreign language. I wrote an article here Stevens, Vance. 2006. Learner strategies at the interface: Computer-assisted language learning meets computer-mediated communication. In Handbook for Arabic Language Teaching Professionals in the 21st Century, Kassem Wahba, Zeinab Taha, and Liz England (Eds.). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., a pre-publication version of which I put online here: At that URL, scroll to just above and below the section "A syllabus for language learning". I think that's Dogme."

I'd like to reproduce here what I said in that article, regarding my experiences in learning Arabic unplugged.  The teacher referred to below as "Salem" is in fact the best Arabic teacher I ever had, Haridi Salim, and is still in touch with me from time to time from Cairo:

"...  students made no elaborate preparations but spontaneously brought realia to the class. Simply put, the only operative rule was "No English, Only Arabic." We formed classes of students who would follow this rule. Salem, whose other classes were conducted in more traditional vein, often remarked about how much he was learning about language teaching through the experience of working with us. We were all learning that authentic materials were more motivating than traditional ones and that communicative approaches allowed us to use what Pinker (1994) called our "language instinct' to efficiently learn the language. This efficiency was also improved by focusing our concentration on Arabic, allowing us to actually think in that language, and cutting out the factor of code switching that constantly throws students off in bilingual language classes. We were learning what we needed to know about creating materials once the technology caught up with our need to find and present authentic language learning materials in Arabic.

A syllabus for language learning

This section elaborates on the idealized syllabus for learning a language such as Arabic and how it can be augmented with technology. The syllabus accrues from experiences with "'Salem"' described above and can be minimalistically characterised as finding teachers who will use only Arabic in class (spoken and written) and putting them before students who agree to read, speak, and write the same. I have had the opportunity to replicate this configuration in two learning situations since that time and in both instances, the technique was markedly effective with small groups of students who self-selected to learn on these principles.

However, creating such a pure and facilitative learning environment in an Arabic class is not easy in practice. I have faced problems with Arabic teachers who are not convinced teaching with only discourse in their target language is possible. They feel that students' first- language support is necessary and they tend to over-use it, thus suppressing opportunities for students to internalize patterns discernible from rich target language input. I have known Arabic teachers who refuse to teach Arabic script in the belief that this would be too great a leap for their students. However, the converse is true: using student-language emulations of target language features often disguises the patterns inherent in the target language and can actually hinder the learning of the language through elucidation of it's otherwise predictable features.

Resistance also comes from students who don't realize the possibility of learning Arabic using only discourse in the target language. They feel that first-language support is necessary and tend to ask questions in their native language, thus suppressing opportunities for internalizing patterns discernible from rich target language usage and input (when the response is made in the target language rather than the student's native). Oddly, some students in this group are themselves language teachers who teach classes using the target language only yet still persist in relying on support in their native language in their own Arabic classes rather than persevering in the target.

Once all concerned agree to learn and work in Arabic only and settle on a time to meet regularly, finding things to do in the class has never been a problem when the students are encouraged to raise topics for class discussion. They have the essential ingredients for good language learning; namely, an informant, a commitment on the part of students to digest the material, and materials proposed by and therefore relevant to the students themselves. The classes I've experienced have all gone well ala munasib (according to the occasion) but both students and teachers must seed discussion and activities."

Ironically that article is about teaching "plugged", not "unplugged".  The latter term I know means (in music) without relying on electronic enhancements, but the article itself is about how technology can enhance the dogme approach.  As I say in its conclusion, it shows:

" instructional technology supports current trends in language teaching methodology by allowing students to engage in meaningful, authentic, and truly communicative activities that enhance their ability to learn languages such as Arabic through the use of the Internet.. Computers have allowed the achievement of constructivist outcomes by facilitating the establishment of learning environments which have moved:

  • from making behaviorist teaching paradigms such as tutorials and drill and practice more efficient;
  • through more cognitive approaches such as simulations and better use and analysis of corpora and multimedia;
  • to comprehensive access of a world of authentic target-language documents via the Internet; and
  • most recently, to all of the above plus genuine communication and empathy with native and non-native speakers of Arabic through the formation of communities of practice online and in blended learning situations."
Graham Stanley, Dennis Newson and Gavin Dudeney are all vocal protagonists of dogme, and enthusiastic teachers, learners, and builders in Second Life, so I'm sure there are no real implication in the term "unplugged" that teachers should eschew educational technology (after all, unplugged musicians use microphones and sound systems that project what they do onstage to the far corners of concert halls; or in cinematic terms, even the most purist dogme director would still use hi-tech cameras), but I wish here to drive home the point nevertheless, that technology is capable of enhancing what Thornbury declares is the thrust of dogme: "to restore teaching to its pre-method 'state of grace' - when all there was was a room with a few chairs, a blackboard, a teacher and some students, and where learning was jointly constructed out of the talk that evolved in that simplest, and most prototypical of situations." Why not, then, a few rezzed furniture objects embedded in a holodeck in Second Life, that do marvelous things when clicked on, giving learners that much more to wonder at and talk about?

Thornbury, S.  (2002) A Dogma for EFL. IATEFL Issues 153, Feb/March 2000.

Pinker, S. (1994). The language instinct: How the mind creates language. Harper Perennial (Harper/Collins Publishers): New York, NY.

TinyURL for this post:

Friday, January 1, 2010

Modeling social media in networks and bringing the pieces loosely joined together

I haven't posted here for some time, but I've been quite busy, as you can see from my last-century web page at I've got a number of articles in the works for 2010, and in the last days of 2009, I managed to complete and submit in Wordpress my latest article for the column I edit four times each year (and often write myself) for the TESL-EJ online professional journal.

The article is entitled Modeling Social Media in Groups, Communities, and Networks: It's about the importance of teachers developing, nurturing, and interacting in networks and then modeling and demonstrating within those networks in order to scaffold each other's professional development. The Implications section starts out by saying:
"A major key to success in keeping current in one’s field is in nurturing productive contacts within a network ... the skill of leveraging networks is increasingly important in the 21st century in plumbing and aggregating knowledge when that knowledge base is forever changing at an increasingly accelerated pace. For appropriate use of online social networks to be taught in schools, teachers themselves must be familiar with their impact on learning. One problem is that teacher-trainers without sufficient experience with technology and who are rooted in old-school methodologies are simply not modeling new age learning behaviors for their trainees by showing them how to reach out to networks."
It was only the second time I had used Wordpress for my submissions, and the first time, for the article I submitted 3 months ago, I scrupulously followed directions including watching a 20-minute screencast on using the interface.  But this time around I tried to wing it and missed some steps, resulting in my article being the one to hold up the works as the editors were trying publish the issue.  Pressed to finalize my part of the process, I got up at 5 a.m., went through the article one last time, put in some final touches, and hit the publish button, then headed down to my car to drive off to work.

When I commute I listen to my mp3 player, and the program that I had been listening to was from the Worldbridges megafeed, and it happened to be Wesley Fryer speaking with Kim Cofino, who had recorded a keynote presentation for the 2009 K12Online conference entitled Going Global: Culture Shock, Convergence and the Future of Education,  Worldbridges had hosted a "fireside chat" with Kim, mounted on their website at I had been listening to the first part of the chat earlier, so the part that came on just as I was pulling away from the house was the part of her keynote where she was talking about the importance of nurturing networks, how those already in such networks can model their cultivation for others, and suggesting six ways to start one.

It was uncanny that as I pulled out into Abu Dhabi traffic I heard Kim say almost exactly what I had just been working and re-working in my head in my apartment just then and for the previous week as I massaged my article to completion. Her words resonated with me at just the right moment, and I felt as if a jigsaw puzzle of thoughts inside my head and Kim's were coming together on my drive to work.

I decided to extract the part of Kim's talk where she made those points and share it here:

My daily commute is an important part of connecting with my network for me.  This is a time when I listen to what others in my network have recorded and podcast online, and I often arrive at work itching to get onto my computer and check out web sites and URLs I've heard mentioned while I was driving to work.  Podcasts are a crucible of ideas for me, like Twitter, something I can monitor in the background and extract the nuggets of knowledge that are lurking in the stream as I run the sounds between my ears.

When Kim, and her colleague at International School of Bangkok Jeff Utecht, gave their keynote talk at the WiAOC online conference in May, 2009 (, I introduced them by telling the story of when I met Kim in Bangkok while traveling with the FLNW (Future of Learning in a Networked World) traveling roadshow in January, 2008.  This story is a great illustration of how networked worlds collide to release energy quantum levels above that of the disconnected component parts.

The FLNW roadshow is an un-event, loosely organized in 2008 by John Eyles who got Michael Coghlan, Trish Everett, and I to meet him in Bangkok for a few days or a week or two, whatever time we could spare, of hopping from one educational institute to another as John worked his way toward Thai TESOL in Chiang Mai and on to a village in Laos where he would deliver some books he had arranged to be donated there.  Our first event was a stop at ISB.
Talk about coming full circle and fitting together more pieces of the jigsaw, I have just re-read that and noticed where Kim said in that post "Not only was it fantastic to have three so well-respected and knowledgeable visitors talk to our teachers in a casual format about their questions, issues and problems, but it was so great to have them reinforce so many of the things Justin, Dennis and I say on a daily basis."  So here we are, echoing one another again.

At the time of this event I had never met nor heard of Kim, she had not yet become a part of my network, and I was there simply because John had arranged a van to pick us up and take us to ISB. John had mentioned we had been asked to talk about reading, so I had prepared a slide show on that topic, and as one does when illustrating the future or education in a networked world, I had arranged with Doug Symington on Vancouver Island in Canada to webcast our meeting, which I had hoped to stream from Bangkok out to the networked world at large.  We had of course asked in advance about the facilities at ISB and we were told we could have access to anything we wanted, but a disconnect occurred when we arrived on site and found that this was true only if we had specified in advance what we needed, and then their IT people would have allowed us to breach their firewall.  However, I arrived and discovered that having arranged with Doug to meet him online at a certain time, I was totally unable to connect to Skype or Elluminate, and I imagined Doug having rearranged his schedule to accommodate ours and having set up a webcast, trying to reach me but being unable to, and not having any way to tell him what was going on.

Meanwhile, the ISB folks had set up their own webcast via Ustream, which they had working, having made the necessary arrangements with IT.  And who should be in the chat there but Doug Symington!! So the network had come to the rescue.  Doug was in Kim's network, whose tendrils had reached out and roped him in, and all was fine, the network had saved the day.

I find it really fascinating how a system so prone to chaos and entropy so often works through the wisdom of the crowds that populate it to keep the pieces loosely joined all heading in the same direction.  Something is quite in synch here, and I hope in this post that I've been able to get at one small part of it.

You can share this post via

Comments from the Twittersphere (Jan 14 and Jan 3, 2010):